Commentary and discussion

Commentary > Friday, February-04-2011

When Homeopathy Is Presented As A Cure

Keywords: homeopathy, cancer, news, reporting

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article on my blog analyzing the claims that a man cured himself of cancer with homeopathy.  You've just got to shake your head at the shoddy reporting where the journalist basically acts as a publicity cheerleader for this man's intervention, not even asking any of the very basic questions that even a dumbass like myself was able to throw out there.

I forwarded the Ingersoll Times article to Melany Fulgham of the Skeptic North blog and it made her "Skeptical Fails and Wins" segment (as a fail, of course).  The reason I want to bring it up again is because it's a great case study in how this kind of rhetoric can convince people, and helps us to hone our minds towards seeing the kinds of misdirections and assumptions in these kinds of claims which are virtually invisible until you look for them.

Like when the article says:

Today, the same surgeon who performed the operation shakes his head in disbelief every time Moyer returns for a check-up.

It's a wonderfully convincing statement, until you realize that nobody bothered to question the doctor in question and get any sort of statement from him about how remarkable this case was.  Instead, we only have the word of the homeopath who's making these claims.

One thing I notice upon rereading my old article that I didn't pay attention to at the time is the way Moyer talks about how he tried previous homeopathic treatments, but it wasn't until he got tinkering with remedies himself that he finally found the "cure".  It's such a common way that people fool themselves.  He just keeps  on trying different things, and when the actual medical treatment he was going through finally works he gives the credit to his latest homeopathic attempt rather than to medical science.

And the reporter just accepts everything he says completely at face value.  This willingness to accept anecdotal evidence completely unquestioned is understandable in terms of the way our brains work, but we should expect reporters to be more diligent about questioning and getting the facts right. 

This is especially the case when the article quotes Moyer as saying:

There is nothing we can't treat including serious illness.

That's a serious claim, and it gravely misleads people into believing that homeopathy is serious and potent medicine.  With this kind of rhetoric, it's really no wonder that many people believe that they can forgo actual medical treatments in favour of water and sugar with no science to support it.

What I hope we accomplish with this 10-23 campaign is to convince people to look beneath the misleading rhetoric of homeopathy and to start asking questions about the unproven assumptions and self serving claims made by homeopathic doctors.

Because when you bother to have questions and even just slightly scratch the surface, it's pretty obvious that there's just nothing there.

Commentary > Friday, February-04-2011

A Homeopathic Primer

Keywords: homeopathy, history, skepticamp

Skeptic groups worldwide are gearing up for the 10:23 protest on Saturday, and those of us in Winnipeg are looking forward to our warmest weekend in quite some time.

I've procured some Boiron "hypericum perforatum" (St. John's Wort) at 30C, which (I am told) will heal puncture wounds, bruises, and crushed fingers—not only that, but it prevents lockjaw! No tetanus vaccine required! As tempting as it is to smash my hand with both sides of a hammer before downing the bottle, I think that I'll err on the side of caution, in case the tablets aren't quite as efficacious as claimed.

While we were polishing off our preparations, it occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with what homeopathy actually is. It's just natural medicine, right? Nope!

If you don't know much about homeopathy, or you need a refresher, check out this talk that I presented on the history and practice of homeopathy at SkeptiCamp Winnipeg last year.

If you're not big on video, the text of the presentation (with references) can be found at the Winnipeg Skeptics blog or at Startled Disbelief.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Commentary > Monday, January-31-2011

Ben Goldacre On Homeopathy

I don't generally talk about homeopathy on my own blog, mostly because everybody else is already talking about it.  But it is definitely a serious concern when people are being convinced to spend money on useless treatments, sometimes for serious conditions and often combined with a rejection of standard medical treatments that have been actually shown to have an effect.

My favourite quote regarding homeopathy comes from Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science", in which he says:

How does a water molecule know to forget every other molecule it's seen before?  How does it know to treat my bruise with a memory of arnica, rather than a memory of Isaac Asimov's faeces?  I wrote this in a newspaper once, and a homeopath complained to the Press Complaints Commission.  It's not about the dilution, he said, it's the succussion.  You have to bang the flask of water briskly ten times on a leather and horsehair surface, and that's what makes the water remember a molecule.  Because I did not mention this, he explained, I had deliberately made homeopaths sound stupid.

Well, we certainly don't want to misrepresent anybody's arguments.  So make sure when you're explaining homeopathy to your friends and family that you mention the succussion - otherwise the whole theory might seem ridiculous.